ICE BREAKERS PREVIEW VS. PORT HURON PROWLERS

By Jared Tennant

PHOTO: Dee Hannum

Mentor Ice Breakers (5-16-0-0, 15 pts., 6th place) vs. Port Huron Prowlers (7-13-2-1, 26 pts., 5th place)

(W-L-OTW-OTL)

The Mentor Ice Breakers will be looking to snap their recent five-game losing streak on New Year’s Eve at home against the visiting Port Huron Prowlers. The game marks the Prowlers first-ever visit to the Mentor Civic Ice Arena as Port Huron is the last club in the Federal Hockey League to make the bus trip to Northeast Ohio.

WHEN/WHERE: Monday, December 31, 8:35 p.m. @ Mentor Civic Ice Arena

LIVE BROADCAST: TFMSports.com (with play-by-play announcer Angelo Velotta)

LEAGUE STANDINGS

TEAM

GP

W

L

OTW

OTL

PTS

W%

GF

GA

DIF

PIM

STREAK

Carolina Thunderbirds

23

19

3

0

1

58

.841

93

46

+47

657

W 10

Watertown Wolves

21

12

8

1

0

38

.603

86

82

+4

422

W 2

Elmira Enforcers

22

11

9

0

2

35

.530

79

62

+17

440

W 5

Danville Dashers

22

8

13

1

0

26

.394

70

90

-20

506

L 7

Port Huron Prowlers

23

7

13

2

1

26

.377

80

92

-12

482

L 3

Mentor Ice Breakers

21

5

16

0

0

15

.238

65

99

-34

701

L 5

 

MENTOR ICE BREAKERS NOTES

After a disappointing set of games against the Carolina Thunderbirds, the shorthanded Ice Breakers can right the ship and get things headed in the right direction against the Prowlers, who are riding a three-game losing streak. Mentor’s five-game losing skid has consisted of games against Carolina and the Elmira Enforcers, arguably the best two teams in the FHL right now despite Elmira being in third place in the league standings.

After playing games in the past couple of weeks without key offensive pieces in Mark Essery, Gordy Bonnel, and Declan Conway, the Ice Breakers have run into a bit of a goal-scoring problem. Mentor has six goals in its last five games since blowing out the Danville Dashers 6-0 back on December 21.

The offensive struggles can partly be attributed to the fact that the Ice Breakers have played their last five games against the two best defensive teams in the league, Elmira and Carolina. The league-leading Thunderbirds have allowed only 46 goals in 23 games, by far the lowest mark in the FHL.

It may sound cliché, but the Ice Breakers biggest priority on Monday should be finding ways to get the puck in the back of the net, especially if some of their more productive offensive contributors remain out of the lineup. Mentor struggled to generate chances against the stout Carolina defense last week, something that will hopefully change against a Port Huron team that has given up 92 goals in 23 games (four goals per contest).

Ice Breakers forward Ivan Vilcauskas has received a 10-game suspension for his actions against Carolina last weekend. Vilcauskas has only six points (1-5-6) in 17 games, but his 6-foot-3, 230-pound presence and physicality will be missed against the Prowlers. Netminder John Sellie-Hanson will be serving a one-game suspension of his own on Monday evening. The Fargo, North Dakota native was involved in a fight against Carolina goaltender Frankie McClendon on Saturday. He likely received the suspension for crossing the center red line before McClendon had accepted the offer to scrap.

Forward Brett Oldaker has been a bright spot in a tough couple of weeks for Mentor. The University of Pittsburgh product has scored twice in his last two outings and has the third-most points on the Ice Breakers roster with seven goals and seven assists. Gordy Bonnel continues to be missed by the Ice Breakers after logging a 7-12-19 scoring line in 14 games before being injured. Bonnel leads Mentor in assists and is a central cog in the Ice Breakers’ power-play unit with four goals on the man advantage.

The Prowlers are an improved team, but their defense isn’t on the same level as Carolina or Elmira. Mentor is in desperate need of a win in order to get back on the right track and head into the new year on a positive note. The Ice Breakers have some tough road matchups coming up against Watertown and Elmira, making Monday night’s game even more important.


PORT HURON PROWLERS NOTES

The Prowlers have been a difficult team to figure out over the last month or so. They seemed to be headed towards a long season after falling to sixth place in the league standings, but a resurgent effort has gotten them into a fourth-place tie with Danville.

Port Huron has added significant pieces during the season such as forwards Matt Robertson and netminder Chris Paulin, but it also recently lost leading scorer Yianni Liarakos. Liarakos joined a professional team in his native Hungary after collecting 30 points (13-17-30) in just 20 games with the Prowlers, including three goals and a pair of assists in three appearances against the Ice Breakers.

The addition of Robertson may essentially cancel out the loss of Liarakos. Robertson is the all-time leading scorer in Prowlers’ franchise history with 199 points (83-116-199) in 114 games. Robertson, 30, will be seeking his 200th career point in Mentor tonight. He has played in the FHL over the last three seasons after spending five years in the SPHL with several different clubs.

Forwards Matt Graham (9-24-33) and Dalton Jay (13-16-29) are currently the Prowlers leading scorers, closely followed by Robertson’s 20 points (9-11-20) in just 12 games. Port Huron has had to overcome the loss of Liarakos as well as Austin Daae, who racked up six goals and seven assists in only five appearances before being called up to the SPHL’s Birmingham Bulls. Daae logged a staggering six points (3-3-6) against the Ice Breakers in his season debut on November 16.

Another player to watch out for is Zachary Zulkanycz, who is scoring at a point-per-game pace with 18 points (7-11-18) in 17 games and posted three points against the Ice Breakers on November 17.

Paulin and Cory Simons give the Prowlers a reliable duo between the pipes. Paulin has only two games played but they have both been wins as the 26-year-old has stopped 91 of the 95 shots he’s faced. Simons, on the other hand, has been a workhorse. He has a 7-6-0 record over 16 appearances and has a 3.13/.917 slash line.


AROUND THE FHL

The Danville Dashers free-fall continued with a pair of losses against Elmira last weekend. Danville has dropped seven straight games and is still searching for answers after losing several top scorers to SPHL call-ups and injuries and firing head coach Paul MacLean just 17 games into the season.

Danville has had to add several new players to round out its roster, including blueliner Joe Brennan who appeared in three games for Mentor earlier this season. Danville has lost nine of its last 10 games and will look to right the ship on New Year’s Eve with a tough matchup against Carolina.

Meanwhile, Watertown’s steady play has kept the defending Commissioner’s Cup champions in second place, although the Wolves are still 20 points out of first place. Watertown has taken on Port Huron in five of its last six contests, winning three of those matchups after a two-game sweep of the Prowlers last weekend at home. The Wolves will play host the Elmira on New Year’s Eve with a 6:30 p.m. puck drop in a battle of the FHL’s New York teams.


WHAT’S NEXT

Mentor will kick off the new year on January 4th and 5th with a pair of road games against the FHL’s New York teams in Watertown and Elmira, respectively.

The following weekend, the Ice Breakers will play a home-and-home against Port Huron, starting on Friday, January 11 at the Mentor Civic Ice Arena.

The Ice Breakers, proud members of the Federal Hockey League, are in their inaugural season. Single-game tickets and ticket packages are available 24/7 online at mentoricebreakers.com/tickets. They can also be purchased at the box office prior to every home game or by calling (440) 290-8502.